Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Nature of Freedom

"There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. ~G'Kar, BABYLON 5

"Once your awareness becomes a flame, it burns up the whole slavery that the mind has created. There is no blissfulness more precious than freedom, than being a master of your own destiny. ” ~Osho

Myth reassures us that we are all heroes, we have a purpose and a connection to the All. Relatively recently, the stories also tell us that we are free.

In earlier cultures stories reinforced the idea that a good person obeys the local gods, preisthoods and kings. There were exceptions like Robin Hood, but most heroes like Beowulf, Hercules and Lancelot stayed in line.

It wasn't until the 1800s that the idea of personal freedom emerged. Its roots are in heroes such as Hawkeye in LAST OF THE MOHICANS and romanticized stories about pirates and Western outlaws, but the first great romantic rogue hero in fiction was The Scarlet Pimpernel, beginning as a play in 1903 and a series of books by Baroness Emma Orczy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was a British nobleman who was an outlaw in France for rescuing people from the guillotine. With his colorful name, secret identity and symbolic calling cards he was forerunner to generations of masked heroes from Zorro to V For Vendetta.

The Victorian era produced Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective who worked independently of the law and Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, using his submarine the Nautilus to try to end war.

The 20th century brought pulp magazines and comic books and with them hordes of masked, cloaked "mystery men"(1). The 1920s -30s were a time when gangsters seemed to run roughshod over the law. The Phantom, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Batman, and The Spirit took matters into their own hands, supplanting such authority figures as Dick Tracy in the popular imagination. It was like telling us that if society couldn't save us, the Universe and the human spirit working together would.

The ultimate expressions of freedom came in Tarzan, The Saint, Superman and Doctor Who.
Tarzan was free of civilization and all its expectations and limitations. For those familiar only with movies, Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan was not that ignorant character but an educated English nobleman who when he learned his hertiage chose to return to the jungle.
The Saint literally laughed at the law; his books had titles like THE HAPPY HIGHWAYMAN and THE BRIGHTER BUCANEER. He helped people (and himself) with an utter disregard of the criminal nature of his methods, and had fun doing it.
Superman was not only free of society but of all mortal limitations. He was a logical extension of folklore heroes. Individuals who were more powerful than their environments, from the purely physical in Hercules to advancing technology in John Henry and Paul Bunyan. Superman himself has changed with the times: in his early stories he could be harmed by exploding shells, but now he could survive a nuclear war.
Doctor Who is free of time and space. In his TARDIS he travels anywhere and anywhen, the embodiment of Hung-Chih's saying "A person of the Way fundamentally does not dwell anywhere." The Doctor is not bound by the laws of any one period or society, not even his own (he stole the TARDIS).
Of the above, Tarzan, I think, is the most free. He can't fly or deflect bullets or travel in time but his mind is free. He goes where he wants and accepts whatever he meets. Tarzan is probably the most Zen-like of all the heroes.

In TV and movies, private eyes and loner cowboys were more prevalent than police heroes. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer broke with the Council of Watchers who supposedly controlled her destiny. The science fiction heroes have gone from the Space Rangers and Space Patrol of early tv and STAR TREK's upholders of the United Federation of Planets to the rebels of STAR WARS, the fugitives of FARSCAPE and finally the "Let's Go Be Bad Guys" crew of FIREFLY.

Stories like these don't just express the need and yearning for freedom. Myth tells us that we are good and deserving, and eternal, and it tells us that we are free. We just have to decide to accept it.
Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull told a gull with a broken wing,
"You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."
"Are you saying I can fly?"
"I say you are free."

(1) before the term "superhero"

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